I came across an article in the Washington Post on Tuesday that still has me scratching my head.
Its headline? "Why I’m struggling to explain my beauty routine to my 4-year-old daughter."
Indeed, I thought the article would have a slightly different tenor than a woman truly, actually wondering how and why she's having difficulties explaining her beauty routine — which includes curling eyelashes and minimizing pores — to a toddler.
I realized somewhere along this train of thought that I was judging her, and I stopped. I didn't stop the judgment because she's right — she's not; I stopped because it's not my place to judge, period.
The author, one Sara Petersen, describes an interaction with her daughter in which the young girl questions her mother's beauty regimen as she's in the middle of putting on a face of makeup.
With one simple question, Petersen's daughter disarms her entirely.
'Why are you doing that, Mama?'
That's what Petersen's daughter asked her mother. "Why are you doing that, Mama?"
This led Petersen to question nearly her very existence. Nearly.
"I think about her question," Petersen writes. "And for a brief moment, I lose myself in contemplating the why of the skin care and beauty rituals that make up my life as a woman who wants to be seen a certain way."
"Why do I pluck hairs from places our culture tells me they shouldn’t grow? Why do I slather my skin in something that promises to peel it?" Petersen asks, and goes on to admit to herself — and her readers — that she enjoys makeup's escapism.
"Meditative reflections on the joys of an especially viscous serum allow me to turn off the voices in my head that scream about writing deadlines, kindergarten registration and smoothies disguising kale as dinosaur food," she writes, marveling at the 4-year-old's ability to wear three layered skirts without judgment, and how "gloriously unaware" the child is that "hair grows on her legs."
Petersen goes on to lamely tell her daughter that she simply likes makeup, because it's "how Mama expresses herself."
Her 4-year-old daughter is apparently wiser than her mere four years, because even Petersen admits that her daughter isn't buying the trite and cliché reason behind the daily grind of slathering masks of varying color on one's face.
It's the patriarchy, not me
Petersen, instead, does a deep-dive with some self-reflection in order to determine why she goes through her morning beauty regimen. So she blames it on the patriarchy, and what society has told her she should be, instead of listening to a greater voice — God's voice.
"Why am I curling my eyelashes? What’s the honest answer? Curled eyelashes make my eyes look bigger, which makes me look more awake, which I think makes me look younger and prettier, and the world values me more when I look younger and prettier," Petersen explains. "Because this is so ingrained in me, I feel more confident and calm presenting my face to the world with curled eyelashes."
Petersen goes on to add that she struggles daily with buying into the myth that you have to look a certain way in order to get ahead in life.
"My enjoyment of skin care and beauty cannot be divorced from the fact that I am participating in a youth-obsessed culture that was largely and deliberately shaped by men, or from the fact that most skin care and beauty lines are owned by men," she writes. "The money I spend on bronzer goes directly into the hands of a man, and this fact tempers the fun I’m having in front of the mirror with something else that makes me feel altogether icky."
Petersen concludes by admitting that she doesn't have all the answers. Which is OK. None of us do. But she counters that with professing that she simply wants to be a "good feminist mother" who can raise a strong, self-confident daughter to whom none of these trivial things matter.
Instead of taking responsibility for participating in what she calls the "patriarchy," she puts it squarely on the shoulders of the men who came before her.
"Patriarchy has shoved us all squarely between a rock (preferably a natural lava pumice stone) and a very hard place," she writes. "Sometimes this makes me feel powerless, but if I continue to educate myself, if I strive to have honest conversations with myself and my daughter, and, at the very least, support female-owned and operated companies, then hopefully, my example will smooth my daughter’s path just enough for her to grow into a woman who loves herself (and her skin). "
So what to do, then?
Perhaps if even more women in the world were more attuned to what it means to be a godly, Christian woman — and heaven knows, I could use that shoulder-tap at least once an hour (or more) myself — we women wouldn't be struggling for the words to convey what a meaningless application of makeup means in comparison to real beauty — which our Creator sees in us.
What does the Bible say about beauty through the eyes of Christ, anyway?
Well, for starters, it's probably good to get some of the bigger issues out of the way, like placing 100 percent of our priority on God and his will.
As it says in Matthew 6:33-34, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Second, it's of utmost importance to place precedence on things of this world that last — not fleeting beauty and youth. Those things include a genuine service to others so that God's love and kindness shines through us, illuminating our ingrained beauty.
As 1 Timothy 2:9-10 says, "Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness."
A Christian woman can wield the biggest influence in her sphere of life, whether it be her marriage, family, or church — and that has nothing to do with the "patriarchy" whatsoever.
A woman's job should be not to focus on the "patriarchy" and its misgivings and misdeeds. A woman should, instead, choose to focus on that which makes her beautiful in the eyes of God, by placing her hopes and restoration in Him. By doing that, fearlessness and confidence in her own conduct will soon flood in.
Proverbs 31:25 says, "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come." The chapter later adds that "charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."
Maybe it's time to stop trying to blame it on the "patriarchy" and quit trying to keep up with the stay-at-home neighbor mom who seems to have it all together. She doesn't. None of us do. And that's OK, too.
But being silent and complicit and allowing another generation to think that makeup is going to solve a woman's problems, or that looking pretty is going to get her everywhere in this world? That's not OK. And putting the blame on men isn't OK either.